If there's one thing you can expect to hear echoed in this article, it will probably be a combination of the terms "lottery," "growing pains," "no playoffs," and "rough year." While there were glimmers of hopes in previous seasons, both the New Jersey Devils and their fans alike have recognized that some things need to change before the team can truly be competitive again. This past week here at All About the Jersey has been focused upon previewing different parts of the team; in case you missed any, here are the links to catch you up:
- Part 1: Forwards by CJ Turtoro
- Part 2: Defensemen by Alex Potts
- Part 3: Goaltenders by Brian Franken
- Part 4: Special Teams by John Fischer
- Bonus: Three Questions Facing the New Jersey Devils by John Fischer
Today, we will give our predictions (same as last year, but for the first time under the new banner) as to how we expect the team to perform; while John wrote this time last year that predictions were all over the place as to where the Devils would finish, I don't think anyone foresees a successful, playoff-bound season for the team this year. Without any further ado, I give to you, alphabetized by first name:
The AATJ Staff Predictions
Alex Potts: Last season was one of the worst in New Jersey in recent memory. Except for some quality goaltending, nothing really seemed to go right, and the Devils were essentially out of contention by January 1st. This season, with the changes in management, coaching, and players, the Devils are clearly transitioning to something new. With that, expect to see some growing pains.
Don't expect it to be all bad, however. Cory Schneider is still a top goaltender in this league, and the defense could turn into a real strong point for this club. But in reality, this season is all about growth, not results. I would love to see wins, but more importantly, I want to see the team be competitive and improve. I expect the Devils to finish 7th in the division, ahead of only Carolina. They may push a team like Philadelphia for the 6th spot, but more than likely they will be battling with the Canes all season to stay out of the basement.
X-Factor: Adam Henrique: He scored 25 goals two seasons ago, but only 16 this past season. He also has not again reached the 51 point threshold that he had in his rookie season. If the Devils are going to take a step forward, he needs to break out as both a team leader and a point producer. If he can produce 25 goals and 35 assists (lofty goals I know), and become a locker room leader in the process, it would be a huge boon for this team.
Brian Franken: While I like the direction the organization is heading in under the Shero/Hynes regime, I still am not that optimistic about this year's Devils team. I think they'll finish towards the bottom of the division, let's say 7th to give it a number. Goaltending is a position of strength with Schneider capable of playing a lot and stealing games. He alone may be able to earn the Devils an extra spot in the standings above the 7th place I predicted for the division. I'm also encouraged to see the continued progression of Larsson, Severson, and Merrill to go along with the always reliable Greene to form a solid top 4. I'm not as confident in Gelinas or Moore though.
My concern about this team lies with the forwards. The additions of Palmieri and Tlusty will certainly help make the team more respectable and watchable compared to last year, but they are not game breakers. As much as I love guys like Cammalleri, Zajac, Henrique, and Elias, I don't think whatever lines the Devils roll out are going to strike fear into the opposition. While these are quality players, they are being asked to shoulder too much of the offensive burden on a weak Devils team than what should really be expected out of them. I do like that Hynes wants to implement a faster, supportive system and make use of young players like Josefson and most likely some AHL call ups during the year. But with all things in a rebuild, it's going to take time and this is a transitional year. I'm interested to see how Matteau and Boucher do should they be full time NHL players but I can't imagine either making a huge impact that would bolster this forward group to the next level.
Christopher Moxley: The Devils franchise is an entirely unprecedented position. Longtime general manager Lou Lamoriello left the team and the front office drastically changed. After nearly 30 years of the same leadership there's a new sherif in town. Ray Shero.
Shero, previously GM of the Penguins has come on and has already made his mark on the franchise. Hiring John Hynes, allowing social media and overall more fan involvement brings a totally new feel to the team. With that said here's my prediction:
The team won't compete for a cup....or a playoff spot. They're much younger this year, growing into their positions and learning an entirely new system. With that said, Cory Schneider will likely keep the team out of the 30th position. The forwards remain lackluster even with the acquisition of Kyle Palmieri meaning we may not see a huge jump in scoring.
With that said I think we'll see some positives this year. The defense will be great. For those who have watched the preseason games, they already know how well Adam Larsson is playing. With his second half last year and what appears to be a strong preseason, Larsson looks ready to make the jump to number one status. Along with Larsson, Severson and Merrill have both played well and are primed for strong seasons. Overall the team will be better but without a huge jump in scoring will remain a bottom five team.
1. Larsson becomes a top-15 defenseman in the league by the end of the season. He has the tools, now is the time he puts it together.
2. Cory Schneider is a Vezina finalist. He could've been one last year.
3. Gelinas is traded by the deadline. The glut of defensemen coupled with the need for a young forward makes this move expected.
CJ Turtoro: It's tough to see much going right this season for the Devils. To keep a light mood I'll start with the things I think will go well.
I see Kyle Palmieri and Jiri Tlusty both working out. I peg KP for 50 points and JT for 30. Adam Henrique is going to be the beneficiary of having a linemate improvement of Ryder/Clowe to Palmieri/whoever. He will threaten for a 30/30 season. I also think that after having 0 defenders put up 25 points last year, Adam Larsson, Damon Severson, and Andy Greene all achieve that feet this year. Schneider will have another tremendous season completely wasted and Kinkaid gives us 20-25 solid games.
Now the more substantial list is the bad news. I don't see any of our young forwards working out. I think Stefan Matteau is a career 4th liner; Reid Boucher and Jacob Josefson will both show flashes in moments of brilliance which will unfortunately be diluted by an excess of continued missed opportunites; Pavel Zacha doesn't stay in the NHL; and Sergey Kalinin struggles to adjust to the game and maxes out as a 3rd liner. I also can't help but see regression for Michael Cammalleri. In the defenders, I think Merrill and Gelinas are finally revealed to be fringe NHLers.
The teams worse than the Devils last year were the Coyotes, Maple Leafs, Sabres, Hurricanes, and Oilers. Of them, the Sabres and Oilers are dramatically improved while the Hurricanes are modestly improved leaving the Devils as finishing in the bottom 3 in the NHL and in the running for presumed 1st of the 3 lottery picks, Auston Matthews.
Gerard Lionetti: I wish I could be a ray of hope in regards to the team's progress this season, but if I told you that I expected this team to not have a great shot at Auston Matthews, Jesse Puljujarvi, or Matthew Tkachuk next summer, it would be a bold faced lie. As I've stated before, we are a team in transition that is going to experience a lot of growing pains that come from a new coach/system and a large group of young players. The assessment that will come from this year, however, could be what determines how long our rebuild will last.
The Devils will certainly be looking at the performance of a number of younger players during the regular season, specifically Reid Boucher, Jacob Josefson, Sergei Kalinin, Stefan Matteau, Kyle Palmieri and Pavel Zacha. While a couple of those players may not be on the main roster after the first few weeks (specifically Zacha), the team will at least be looking to see if they can be pieces to help right the ship. If not, other young players such as Paul Thompson and Joseph Blandisi (who looked very good in preseason action) may see an opportunity to make it in the NHL.
Cory Schneider will keep the team from being accused of tanking, and the young defense (plus Andy "Young at Heart" Greene) could be a sight to see; with those two forces, I don't see the team allowing a lot of goals every night, but we will still be losing a lot of games from the lack of scoring. I would call this season a success if our top 4 (currently Greene, Adam Larsson, Damon Severson and Jon Merrill) plays like a true top 4.
The new system could be the wild card in determining whether we are a competitive but struggling team or an absolute dumpster fire like we were under Johnny Mac. The moves that Ray Shero makes prior to and during the season (some good, young players from other teams may have to be placed on waivers) could also affect not only this season, but the direction the franchise goes in as well. I see the Devils finishing in 6th or 7th depending on how Philly does; I just can't see Carolina getting out of the basement.
X-Factor: Travis Zajac: If he can get back to being a high-40, low-50 point center after an atrocious 2014-15 season, then the outlook will not be as bleak for the Devils; a bit of regression as he ages is to be expected, but he is in his prime right now and needs to be good for more than 25 points. If last season is a true sign of current regression, the Devils may be saddled with a $5.75 million albatross of a fourth line center in the future; let's hope he bounces back and we see some more of this:
John Fischer: From the moment Ray Shero was hired as GM and every time there was a change in the team's staff or management, I was reminded that this is a re-building team. I was not alone. By now, I think most of the fanbase understands and appreciates that this is not a good team and it will take time before they can be one. I've written before that I believe that most of the Metropolitan Division improved and that the Devils won't need to tank to finish high for the 2016 Draft Lottery. I still believe that will be the case.
Yes, the Devils are set in net with Cory Schneider. Yes, the Devils are led on defense by Andy Greene and a group of young-ish ranging from quite good to useful at one or two things. Yes, there's new coaches and all this talk about being relentless. I'm sorry - #Relentless. However, recall that last year's team that struggled to score goals, struggled to generate shots, and allowed too much in terms of possession and shots after the coaching change. There has been a lot of turnover from that team but the lack of talent - namely offensive talent - still remains. Whatever that went well percentage-wise from last season may not be repeated, whether it's an awesome shooting percentage on the power play or Schneider making saves out of his mind. That's a combination that only leads a team to finish rather low in their division. Quite possibly lower than last season. I think the Devils will finish in eighth place - dead last - in the Metropolitan. But at least they'll have a great shot at the lottery.
Matt Mowrer: If losing a lot of games isn't the expectations you have for our beloved New Jersey Devils, then get ready for Hell. We have a lot of young guys in key positions, the talent of our players is mostly unknown, and we're basically the equivalent of an expansion team in regards to the guys in charge (new GM, new coaches, new everything). I trust that GM Ray Shero has a plan and that his plan will eventually work, but right now he's trying to build a house with just a hammer and a handsaw.
To continue with the house building metaphor, to me, this season is all about drafting the blueprint. We know what kind of house we want (fast, attacking, supportive), but what we need to figure out this season are the measurements and what materials and tools we need to make it.
Like John said in his Three Big Questions Facing the NJ Devils article: "A re-build isn't really a re-build if there's nothing building. Similarly, bad teams don't get better without getting better at something." I agree with that 100%. We can't, nor do I think we will, have a year of purposeful tanking so we can get a good shot at the lottery. Unfortunately, the truth is that the tanking is going to come naturally. The best case scenario we can hope for this season is positive discovery.
Those positive discoveries being:
1) Hey, our young defensemen are going to be as good of a group as we all hoped.
2) This Kyle Palmieri kid is going to be a big leader and an important part of this team's success in a few years.
3) This system will work with the right parts in the right places.
4) Pavel Zacha is unquestionably one of those right parts.
In the end, I think we end up a point or two ahead of Carolina in the Metropolitan (the difference being Cory), and I think the Arizona Coyotes join us in the bottom 3 in the league.
Bold Prediction: The Devils power play finished 8th in the league last year, which was quite surprising, and this year they will be top 5. The addition of Palmieri's shot will be a nice compliment to Cammalleri's and the new coaching system will go a long way in improving this team's offensive success.
Mike Stromberg: It's a strange feeling heading into this season. For the first time in my experience as a Devils fan, I will have no expectations of seeing this team make the playoffs. Even in the past few years, when they've been sputtering and losing players, I thought they had enough on the roster to secure a postseason spot. This year, there just isn't enough firepower on the roster to think the Devils will be reaching the postseason, or even realistically contending to get there. For the most part, it comes down to the current state of the forwards in New Jersey. Everyone will be playing a line or two above their skill level, and over the long run, that spells big trouble when it comes to scoring goals. This team has little in the way of top-end talent in their forwards, but also lacks much depth at the same time. The Devils may struggle to even match the paltry 176 goals they scored last season, which is a chilling thought.
On the bright side, things look a little better elsewhere on the roster. The young defense should start to come into their own this season, and while there are some question marks and could be some growing pains, there is a lot to like about a group that should have 5 players under 25 starting opening night. I'm expecting strong seasons from both Damon Severson and Adam Larsson in addition to the always-solid Andy Greene. Throw in one of the best goaltenders in the league in Cory Schneider and the Devils should at least be hanging around in a lot of games, if not winning them. Ultimately, I expect the team to maybe lurk on the fringe of the playoff hunt for a couple months before succumbing to an atrocious offense and being out of it by the trade deadline. They'll be down in the muck at the bottom of a tough Metropolitan Division with Carolina and Philly and will probably finish 7th, above one of those two. The lottery awaits.
Nate Pilling: Something tells me the most intriguing over/under for the Devils this season is how quickly we turn our attention to the subject of the 2016 draft (I'm setting it at Dec. 1 and even then I might take the under). Short of a promising but young defensive core turning into a group of Norris-caliber defensemen overnight, a rag-tag group of forwards finding a scoring touch out of nowhere and Cory Schneider crippling himself due to hauling the team on his back for several months in a row, I see this team competing for the bottom spot in the Metropolitan Division this season. Woof.
Shero (and Lou before him) has managed to put together a crop of forwards for this season that has some intriguing parts (Palmieri, Tlusty, Boucher) and some good-story-type guys (maybe Stempniak and Kennedy, Tootoo) but championship, heck, playoff teams, are built on a whole lot more than that.
Schneider and that defensive group are probably good enough to keep the team from having the league's worst record this season, but it's hard to envision an end to the 2015-16 campaign that doesn't have the Devils picking in the top five positions next June.
Nicholas D'Alessio: Starting off the new era.
Be careful of what you wish for. Before Lou Lamoriello's exit from the organization many fans and even Chere were suggesting it was time for the two to cut ties. Major changes have and will come this season on and off the ice, and it's difficult to accurately predict how players will be used and developed. I don't predict this team in the playoffs or even in the hunt, but that doesn't mean this season is a waste. By the end of this year Devil fans are either going to be dreading the future or be optimistic of it, and a lot of that comes down to these four players; Boucher, Matteau, Gelinas and Zajac.
I'll start with Boucher and Matteau. Both are at the point in their early careers where they have to start showing some sort of growth and production. I'm much more optimistic of Boucher than I am Matteau, because Boucher has an intangible few in the league have, but I do have doubts with both. Hynes needs to make it a priority to put Boucher in a situation for him to succeed, but I don't know if that is possible. Boucher needs to play on a line with one if not two great puck movers so he can find open space and fire on net with his cannon shot. With some coaching and the right line mates I think Boucher can have a terrific career, but the way the Devils are currently constructed I don't think we have the personnel to get him (and Cammalleri) the puck in the right spots consistently.
In regards to Gelinas, he needs to embrace the role of the 'offensive defensemen.' Gelinas is an asset to this team on the power play, and can be an asset during even strength as well. Opposing teams have to respect his shot, and knowing this the other Devil's have more space on the ice to work. I believe Gelinas will embrace the offensive role more, even if that means giving up a little bit of defense.
For Zajac, he just needs to be much, much better. Last year Zajac's production was on par with 3rd and 4th line centers. This is unacceptable and he could be that puck moving play maker Boucher needs, so Zajac needs to get back on track before fans and the organization give up on him. If these four players progress positively I think the upcoming season will be fun to watch, even if we aren't in the playoffs.
Ryan Stimson: I think the Devils will be better than last season, but finish lower. The Metro has gotten stronger at the same time the Devils have revamped their roster with a focus on younger players that fit Ray Shero's plan. They also will be more competitive, but it may take some time for the players to pick up the nuances of how Hynes wants them to play. I expect some struggling out of the gate with the team eventually being more competitive than last season as the season approaches the trade deadline. The team will take a small step back at that point because...
A defender is traded. The Devils finally pull the trigger on trading a defenseman. Hopefully it brings back a young forward, but with a season to see what we have in the youth on the blue line, something has to give to balance out the team.
Shero will continue to make smart, prudent moves with this roster. He's made good trades here and in the past - it's the draft where we'll have to wait and see if he'll have greater success.
Cory Schneider is too good to let the Devils finish as one of the worst teams, but they end up finishing in that 5 - 8 spot again for draft position.
The Devils pick up Hynes system off the bat, the young players gel quickly, and they end up a poor man's version of last year's Nashville Predators, flirting with a 85 - 90 point pace until a few trades are made. At that point, they slip back and settle into the higher end of that 5 - 8 spot for draft position.
I think we'll see similar struggles to score, good defending, and stellar goaltending, but the product on the ice will be better as the team learns how to play under Hynes. I'm not getting my hopes up - I simply want to watch competitive hockey. If they can establish a sound system and identify a few good players from the youth they have, that sets them up well for year two of the rebuild next season.
Bold Prediction: Patrik Elias will be traded. Shero knows he still has more work to do with this roster and Elias is likely the best asset to dangle as we approach the end of February. What he gets always depends on the market, but Elias can still be effective as a middle-six winger on a contending team. He's in the final year of his contract and the Devils have plenty of cap room to retain salary if needed.
Shane Kinsley: I could not be happier about the regime change that has occurred. That isn't to say that I'm 100% sold on the people that were brought in, but the old guard had clearly run its course and the organization needed a change. I love the emphasis on youth and speed as that is clearly the direction the league is headed. I am encouraged by a couple of the moves Shero has made since taking over, but there are also a couple I would question.
While I am optimistic about the teams chances, in reality the pieces just aren't there yet on offense. With Schneider in net we have a great foundation. As long as no one on the blue line takes a step backward, I feel good about that aspect of the team as well. Depending on how Hynes can transfer his system to NHL and get the players to execute, I believe the team has an outside shot of the 7th or 8th spot in the east. Ultimately I don't see that coming together early in the season so I predict a weak first half and not enough gusto in the second half to climb higher than 5th in the Metropolitan Division, missing the playoffs, but again not being bad enough to get a top 5 pick.
Bold Prediction: Joe Blandisi scores 70+ points in Albany and New Jersey combined and finishes the year as a top 6 forward.
Steve Wozniak: This is gonna be a rough year on paper. Standings-wise, I can't see the Devils making it out of the bottom ten in the league, and realistically... in the sadder half of that. The Metropolitan Division looks very strong this year, and I don't see those matchups going in New Jersey's favor. But I think this is all appropriate given the current climate, and it should net the Devils a nice draft pick next season (and I'm still going to watch every game I can).
For the first time ever, I'm dropping any delusions in which this team sneaks their way into the playoffs. It's time for a little humility for the fanbase. I'm as guilty of it as any other long-time Devils fan. I've always known the team to be a cup contender - whether the favorite or the underdog (in my defense, they had a pretty stellar 20ish year run). But the results from the past few seasons have been disastrous, and I do believe that delusional optimism made it feel much worse. That said, all that left with Lou, Marty, and a few others. The rebuild really starts now, and it's going to take some time.
I hope the fan base sticks with the team. There will be big picture positives. Schneider will put up another solid season of stats, even without a mature lineup in front of him. Kinkaid will back him up nicely and maybe even steal a few games for us too. The Devils defensive core is shaping up nicely, and over the next few seasons will strength into a force to be reckoned with. Andy Greene will have another fantastic year, and hopefully some of that will trickle down to his younger teammates. Gelinas will put in some more bombs on the power play, which will in turn also open up other options on the power play. I don't think we'll see much more from Patrik Elias, but I wouldn't be surprised if he has one more gem for us. I am sure Mike Cammalleri will score lots of goals too.
There are virtually no expectations of the team to win big this season, and that's fine. It's nicer to be off the radar while a large portion of the roster is developing. It's going to be difficult to watch at times, because the hard work and effort will not always amount to positive results. That said, if the season does go surprisingly well, I could see the Devils looking to make some kind of offensive splash at the trade deadline as an investment for the following season.
Well there you have it, our first season predictions as All About the Jersey; now that you have seen our predictions, what are your thoughts on them? Compared to last season's predictions, I think we're a bit more realistic about our expectations, but no matter what we will sit, watch as many games as we can (in person or on TV), and genuinely support the team we love. Whose predictions do you agree with? Whose do you disagree with? Most importantly, we also want to know how you think the Devils will do in 2015-16. Leave your thoughts/predictions below, thank you as always for reading, and Let's Go Devils!